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  1. Jill
    Jill March 31, 2009 at 2:35 pm | *

    Thanks for posting this, Rachel. I also flinch whenever I hear that word — and yet I have a bad habit of occassionally using it. It’s something I’ve said FOREVER, and every time I hear myself say it, I cringe. It’s been an ongoing effort to curb its use. A little shaming — having people respond with, ‘that’s a really fucked up word to use’ — goes a long way.

  2. Personal Failure
    Personal Failure March 31, 2009 at 2:53 pm |

    Once I gave up saying things like “Oh my God” or “What in God’s name?” (atheist over here. it’s really silly to invoke a god you write about not believing), i realized a few other words had to go, too. “Retarded” was on the list.

  3. Mighty Ponygirl
    Mighty Ponygirl March 31, 2009 at 3:05 pm |

    I’m like Jill.

    Rhetorically, I want to use the word that conveys not only the meaning but the emotion of what I’m trying to get across. For example, when the Pope says Condoms increase the spread of AIDS, my thoughts are:
    He said WHAT now?
    Oh my God that’s incredibly stupid.
    He should know better.
    I have so little respect for what he just said that I find my opinion of him lowered.

    So how do we boil that down into the most succinct possible way?
    “That’s retarded.”

    And it will on occasion fly out of my mouth when someone does or says something that’s incredibly dumb, irrational, potentially harmful, and when “they should know better.” And I wince at myself.

    Because I use that word as a mark of disdain, to ascribe a complex set of judgements and emotions to a person who has done something that I can’t support. And it’s unacceptable to allow that word as my descriptor for those judgements and emotions when it’s a description — a perjorative at that — for people that I do not ascribe those judgements and emotions to.

    It’s a long difficult weeding process. It would be nice if we could completely decouple the word “retarded” from people who are developmentally disabled, but you can only take responsibility for your own statements and beliefs. So I just have to keep trying to be better about it.

  4. Hot Tramp
    Hot Tramp March 31, 2009 at 3:10 pm |

    Habitual use of the r-word is one of my worst tendencies. Thanks for letting me know about this campaign! I hope it will help me be more mindful.

  5. Ozymandias
    Ozymandias March 31, 2009 at 3:30 pm |

    Ugh.

    I’m still trying to train my friends not to use the word “gay” as a pejorative. Not only is it homophobic, but it doesn’t even make sense! Your cell phone is not gay. It is not sexually attracted to cell phones of the opposite gender. It. Makes. No. Sense.

    Out of curiosity, what’s the statute of limitations on insulting speech? For instance, is it all right to say “I got gyped”, even if you mean no disrespect to the Roma people? Is “moron” on the no-go list?

  6. UnHinged Hips
    UnHinged Hips March 31, 2009 at 3:30 pm |

    I found ‘That’s retarded’ sneaking into my vocabulary more and more- after I made an effort to stop saying ‘That’s gay’. D’oh!

    Which made me stop and think. The sentiment I’m trying to convey when I use those words is “That idea/theory/plan/situation has no value”. It’s incredibly problematic that the default cultural way to express that idea is to tie it to groups of people who are devalued.

    My more accurate replacement now is “That’s trash.” (my partner has decided on ‘rubbish’ ).

  7. mk
    mk March 31, 2009 at 3:30 pm |

    I would love to see campaigns like this for a whole host of words–the n word, the f word (no, not the four letter one), the t word… I’m really hoping other folks follow the Special Olympics’ example.

    (Note: I don’t think the ending of any of those other words is more important than getting rid of the r-word, nor did I intend for this to be a “ZOMG, how can you be upset about ___ when there’s ___?!” kind of comment–I just think this campaign is awesome, and would love to see more like it.)

  8. William
    William March 31, 2009 at 3:40 pm |

    For me the biggest problem with the term isn’t just it’s pejorative use, but it’s professional one. Mental retardation is still the only term you can use for the concept which will be acceptable in a diagnostic context. Worse, that diagnostic label is tied to an averaged score derived from performance on a specific, somewhat arbitrary, set of culturally bound tasks. “Idiot” stuck around in our collective vocabulary long after it ceased to be an acceptable thing to put on a chart, but how can we expect to uttering a term a “retarded” when it’s use is still mandated by government agencies and insurance companies?

  9. Lauren
    Lauren March 31, 2009 at 3:48 pm |

    My mom was a special education teacher and everyone in the family had numerous experiences with her students growing up, so using that word was no different, for all of us, than any other slur. I hate it, and I’m grossed out when my friends defend its usage.

  10. purpleshoes
    purpleshoes March 31, 2009 at 4:03 pm |

    What about the distant derivative twice the pie?
    It comes from the internet misspelling “retarted”, which is an actual good insult (the feeling of being hit with pie in the face, twice) but it still sounds too much like “retarded”, so I’ve started saying “twice the pie.” As in, I misfiled that document and it took two days to fix! Man, that’s twice the pie.

    I swear to god other people use this. Or should?

  11. victoria
    victoria March 31, 2009 at 4:06 pm |

    “Lame” is another one I catch myself using.

  12. E.M. Russell
    E.M. Russell March 31, 2009 at 4:11 pm |

    I even have a nephew with Down Syndrome and I still find myself using the word. It’s a TERRIBLE habit I’m trying to break. I was old enough to know that calling things gay wasn’t cool, but sadly I was already using the word retarded.
    Someone actually got offended on some internet site over “retardation” when mentioning someone who was ACTUALLY mentally retarded. I think it’s almost people thinking that any use of the word is offensive. I also seem to remember they were British. Any Britons that could comment on that? Or was this person not representitive of your people?

  13. Josh
    Josh March 31, 2009 at 4:26 pm |

    I can’t stand its use either. I have a sister who is “mentally retarded,” or she was when we were growing up in the ’60’s and ’70’s (I’m 46, she’s 48); I’m not sure what she would be called now. Fact: Rosie O’Donnell played my sister in a TV movie a few years back, and when we saw her photo in purple Crocs last week, my wife said that Rosie was “channeling [my sister].”

  14. panqueque
    panqueque March 31, 2009 at 4:26 pm |

    Ozymandias, rather than a set statute of limitations (and I know that’s not really what you meant), I wonder if the context of each word is probably more important. To use one of your examples, I try to not use “gyped” because the stereotype that the Roma people are immoral/shifty/cheaters is still VERY active and still results in horrible situations for the Roma. True, most people I know aren’t thinking of this when they say it, and don’t put “gyped” and “Gypsy” together, but I’m guessing that some do (for instance, the Roma!).

  15. William
    William March 31, 2009 at 4:28 pm |

    Someone actually got offended on some internet site over “retardation” when mentioning someone who was ACTUALLY mentally retarded. I think it’s almost people thinking that any use of the word is offensive.

    Yeah, odd how some people might take offense at using a word with pejorative connotation to describe someone who scored below a certain threshold on a poorly designed test. I mean, if we can’t even have a hierarchy of worth what can we use to ward off our own feelings of inferiority?

    …words mean things. Thats doubly true when we don’t realize that they do because society masks the damage they cause by saying its true.

  16. ACG
    ACG March 31, 2009 at 4:30 pm |

    I volunteer with disabled* children, and while I generally manage to stay away from the r-word as an adjective, I do occasionally find myself drifting toward constructions of it (fuckt*** et al). It’s something I need to be more conscious about, because, good Lord, I should know better.

    I have friends who will take time out of a conversation to discuss the difference between stupidity and ignorance, and then will throw the r-word around without thinking. So, we’re going to make the effort to make the distinction, but we’re going to try to saddle people who are actually cognitively delayed** with the ridiculousness of various religious nuts and political leaders?

    *In that volunteer capacity, this word is a big question mark. Whether an individual prefers to be referred to as disabled, differently-abled, or any other term is very personal. And usually, you only know their preference when you insult them and have to be corrected.

    **See above. “Mentally retarded”? “Cognitively delayed”? “Special needs”? Individual preferences are… individual, and you rarely know until you’ve already made the mistake.

  17. Poetry
    Poetry March 31, 2009 at 4:45 pm |

    As someone with a developmentally delayed brother, I face this all the time. I’m really offended when people use the word, and I always tell them, “Please don’t use that word.” It makes me feel like I can’t talk about my experiences as a sibling of a disabled child.

  18. AshKW
    AshKW March 31, 2009 at 5:49 pm |

    Yes. I struggle with this, and hate myself a little bit every time the r-word slips out. And my best friend has CP!!

  19. William
    William March 31, 2009 at 6:08 pm |

    And my best friend has CP!!

    …the primary symptoms of CP are physical, not cognitive.

  20. Henry
    Henry March 31, 2009 at 6:13 pm |

    You know what’s going to happen though, right? Even if you can get people to stop using “retarded”, whatever the current “acceptable” term for the mentally disabled will become the new pejorative. There’s really no way to stop it. Idiot used to be proper. So did moron and imbecile. And I’ve heard plenty of people use “special” as the same insult. Changing the language won’t stop people from being mean.

    I have to confess to using both “retarded” and “gay” on a regular basis. The use of gay is kind of funny considering I’m the only straight guy in the house I rent a room in.

  21. Jim
    Jim March 31, 2009 at 6:52 pm |

    I’ve never felt comfortable with the term “retarded” and have never used it–same with “gay.” I do confess to using “lame,” but since it was pointed out on a blog I read somewhere, I’ve made an effort to eliminate that term as well.

    Instead of those words, can we just use “libertarian”?

  22. Jim
    Jim March 31, 2009 at 7:08 pm |

    By the way: I Tweeted this blog post, and LOTS of people are retweeting it.

  23. bekka
    bekka March 31, 2009 at 7:27 pm |

    Guilty. I use the word. I try very hard not too. I’m getting better about it. Especially now that I work at Goodwill and we employ a lot of adults with learning disabilities, I watch my tongue and have become incredibly sympathetic (without ever being patronizing I hope). I talk to them the way I would anyone else I work with.

    It’s not ok to use “retarded” so casually. Just like it’s not ok to say “That’s so gay”. We should all try a little harder to not use offensive casually. (off topic a bit, but especially “rape”. Nothing gets me madder than hearing someone use the word “rape” casually to describe how they beat a video game/were treated unfairly/whatever)

  24. Jess
    Jess March 31, 2009 at 7:45 pm |

    I am so excited to see this post here! I work with adults with developmental disabilities, and yesterday we took a trip to the State House in Boston to celebrate the change in the name of the Department of Mental Retardation to its new name: The Department of Developmental Services. And, what is even better is that the name change came about because a number of individuals with intellectual disabilities advocated for themselves to have the name changed.

    I also used to use the r-word pretty freely. But when I started working with this population, I became much more aware of how derogatory that term is. I have truly come to love the people that I work with, and they made it easy to cease to use that word. I strongly encourage anyone with the will and the time to volunteer with the special olympics. It’s a blast!

  25. Katlyn
    Katlyn March 31, 2009 at 8:34 pm |

    I admit to using the word ‘retarded’ in casual conversation. Obviously, I’m not even thinking about how this effects someone else when they hear it, which is usually the case when people use offensive terms like that.

    However, if I were ever confronted by someone who was very offended by my use of the word, I would in no way defend it. I have experienced situations where someone has used that word and another person called them out on it and told them that it was offensive. They asked them to stop using it. The other person, instead of just apologizing and being respectful, went on a whole tangent about political correctness and how it wasn’t a big deal. How could someone deny the pain that word could cause someone else? I think people just don’t want to accept that they’re acting like assholes sometimes.

  26. Mighty Ponygirl
    Mighty Ponygirl March 31, 2009 at 8:44 pm |

    I have to confess to using both “retarded” and “gay” on a regular basis. The use of gay is kind of funny considering I’m the only straight guy in the house I rent a room in.

    How is that funny? Because you’re straight and use gay as a perjorative in front of all of your roommates? How is that not massive privilege masquerading as little more than “it’s ok! my best friends are gay!”

    You’re right. People will always be mean. And there’s a point where we have to draw the line. After all a generation or so ago, you could dismiss someone who used racial epithets as just “mean.” SO LET’S ALL JUST RESIGN TO BE MEAN THEN, because it’s not like we’ve come a long way towards banishing those epithets from everyday casual use by civilized people.

    After all, as long as it’s not you people are making fun of, no harm, right?

  27. Sweet Machine
    Sweet Machine March 31, 2009 at 8:57 pm |

    I am really happy to see this campaign. For a take on how “retarded” affects my life as a sibling of a person with cognitive disabilities, see my Blogging Against Ablism post from last year.

  28. shockingnews
    shockingnews March 31, 2009 at 8:57 pm |

    purpleshoes, that’s the dumbest thing i’ve ever heard.

  29. mimulus
    mimulus March 31, 2009 at 8:58 pm |

    I’m going to get flamed for this. I use this word, and I don’t realllly see the problem with it. I would never use it to describe someone who is Mentally Challenged, but that’s not where the word ‘retard’ came from. It means slow. And since ‘idiot’, ‘moron’, ‘stupid’, ‘dumbass’ or whatever could also be used to describe someone who is Mentally Challenged, does that mean we should stop using those terms as well?

    I just think of it as another word like ‘stupid’. Since I don’t ever think of Mentally Challenged people as ‘retards’, they have no connection to each other in my mind.

    Saying something that you don’t like is ‘gay’ is different, as ‘gay’ is an acceptable term for someone who is homosexual.

  30. Amy
    Amy March 31, 2009 at 9:19 pm |

    I’m going to join in the chorus of “I say this sometimes but it bothers me a lot.” I used to say it a lot back in middle school, because that was just what people said. Now that I realize how discriminatory it is, I try not to, but it sometimes (very rarely!) slips out. I think for some reason, though the constant use of “gay” as a synonym for “stupid” bothers me more. It makes NO sense! But both are awful.

  31. annaham
    annaham March 31, 2009 at 9:26 pm |

    Word, Mighty Ponygirl.

  32. mimulus
    mimulus March 31, 2009 at 9:31 pm |

    Gah. Please be gentle, a lot of that didn’t come out right. Sorry. I’m probably too tired to be commenting anyways.

  33. Stop saying “retarded” ! « The Gender Blender Blog

    [...] 03 2009 As I was browsing through our Twitter contacts, (follow us @TUgenderblender) I noticed a post by Feministe. I think this is a cause that really needs to be brought to light. The Special Olympics started a [...]

  34. Auguste
    Auguste March 31, 2009 at 11:03 pm |

    …the primary symptoms of CP are physical, not cognitive.

    True, but that doesn’t mean people don’t use the r-word to describe people living with it. A little ham-handed on the part of the original commenter, but IMO basically on the right track.

    “Lame” is my particular bugbear. I have eliminated it almost completely from my online persona, but trying and not even close in my real life.

  35. RyanRutley
    RyanRutley March 31, 2009 at 11:47 pm |

    I’ve never used “lame”, and if I ever used “gay” I’ve long long since eliminated it (unless I’m talking about, say, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which is a very gay movie). “Retarded” I’ve eliminated fairly recently, and mostly fairly completely. It’s not cool, and that’s enough for me.

    If I ever catch myself starting to says “That’s” in a situation where in the past I may have used “retarded”, is go straight for “the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard”. Or “fucking bullshit”. It’s very satisfying.

  36. RyanRutley
    RyanRutley March 31, 2009 at 11:52 pm |

    Also, Henry, are you seriously saying we’re going to hear 17 year-olds calling things “developmentally delayed” or “cognitively impaired”?

    “Dude, I can’t come to the party. My developmentally delayed parents are making me go with them to visit my grandma that weekend.” “Man, that’s so sexually and emotionally attracted to people of the same self-identified gender.”

  37. Lauren O
    Lauren O March 31, 2009 at 11:55 pm |

    Once I gave up saying things like “Oh my God” or “What in God’s name?” (atheist over here. it’s really silly to invoke a god you write about not believing)

    My use of such terms skyrocketed once I became an atheist. I could get all the aesthetic power without having to feel guilty for taking the Lord’s name in vain!

    As for the r-word, it is an occasional bad habit I’m trying to quit. Like Auguste said, it’s easy to excise from my online persona, but not as easy to purge from automatic verbal reactions that happen out of force of habit.

  38. Destructor
    Destructor April 1, 2009 at 12:27 am |

    I use retarded and gay and lame and gypped and idiot and ohmygod because I’m usually speaking to my friends, and they know I don’t use those words literally or perjoratively. Words are fluid, dynamic, context-specific, as one of the previous posters said, lots of the words that aren’t offensive today used to be terribly offensive. And, look, ‘fuck’ is offensive to my grandmother, who here is going to say that to give up saying that? And, sure, if a friend said they were not comfortable with me saying any of the above words, I’d be a friend and not say that word around them, just as I don’t say fuck around my grandmother. But to be honest, I’m not sure I want to be friends with someone who can’t tell the difference between a word used as pop-culture shorthand and one used to genuinely malign a person or group of people. As Dan Harmon said:

    “The danger of empowering words is that words are insubstantial, so when you give them your power, your power hits the floor. It was your power, given you by nature, you’re supposed to use it to be who you are, but instead, you become an empty shell and your power gets snatched up by the people that can never have enough. Vampires. Control freaks. Party poopers. Liars. Rule makers. Politicians. Con artists. Thieves. Presidents and terrorists. And that’s whose side we’re on every moment we believe in sides. That’s what a bad guy is, it’s a guy that believes in bad. Bad doesn’t care if we’re bashing gays or bashing rednecks, it just wants us bashing. It also wants us fighting, controlling, fearing, stifling, labeling, warning, forbidding, shaming, censoring, and anything else we do in the name of fighting bad. Because when we fight bad, we believe in bad, and bad lives on.”

  39. Henry
    Henry April 1, 2009 at 12:32 am |

    “How is that funny? Because you’re straight and use gay as a perjorative in front of all of your roommates? How is that not massive privilege masquerading as little more than “it’s ok! my best friends are gay!”

    You’re right. People will always be mean. And there’s a point where we have to draw the line. After all a generation or so ago, you could dismiss someone who used racial epithets as just “mean.” SO LET’S ALL JUST RESIGN TO BE MEAN THEN, because it’s not like we’ve come a long way towards banishing those epithets from everyday casual use by civilized people.

    After all, as long as it’s not you people are making fun of, no harm, right?”

    What privilege are you referring to? It’s their house. I know I’m a straight white male and all, but I don’t somehow have diplomatic immunity from being decent. If they’re offended by anything I have to say they can throw my ass out on the street. I mean it’s funny because I’m an idiot sometimes and my mouth overruns my brain. Never happened to you ever? You have to laugh at stuff like that. They don’t care because they know there’s no malice in it. When they crack on me about dumb “hetero” stuff or make fun of me for being “macho” if I happen to be in uniform I don’t get all offended. We’re trying to be friends. They’re good people. My buddy shigs mentioned something being “Jewish” in front of our (Jewish) Gunny last year in the desert. We all laughed our balls off for a good ten minutes.

    The point I was trying to make is that it can be pointless to focus so much on policing the language rather than altering the attitudes that cause problems. If the words change but not the attitudes you haven’t solved anything. If you and I are hanging out and I say something is retarded, and I’m not actively saying hurtful things about someone who’s mentally disabled, why would you be offended? Who have I injured? Who have I shown malice to?

    How about another example: Say I’m hanging out with my white friends, just all being white together, talking about the Chapelle show or something, and I say the “n-word” repeating something from the show. Should I politely sensor myself like a child (like I just did)? Would one of the group be justified in being offended, even though I clearly wasn’t using the word to inflict distress? Is there no difference between that usage and me using the word to demean a black dude? It’s the racism behind the word that’s the problem, not the word itself. Maybe it’s the culture, but me and the guys I work with say horribly racist stuff to each other all the time and no one cares. I’ve been accused of fucking my sister and being a drunk so many times I can’t even count (which is even funnier because I’m not from the hills and I don’t have sister).

    I guess what I’m getting at is that you should be nice to everyone as much as you possibly can, but at the same time it’s an awful way to live our tragically short lives agonizing constantly over every word choice for fear of being insensitive, even when we’re not trying to be.

    Swear to God, I never even knew anyone had a problem with “lame” till I read it here. Which is why I come here I suppose.

  40. Anna
    Anna April 1, 2009 at 6:39 am |

    Katlyn,

    “However, if I were ever confronted by someone who was very offended by my use of the word, I would in no way defend it.”

    Katlyn, I’m not picking on you, just jumping off from your comment.

    I find it nearly impossible to call my friends on ablist language. Frankly, I’m afraid they’ll get in my face about it, or roll their eyes, or tell me to stop being so sensitive – you all know the drill, I’m sure. It’s easier for me to call people on it on the ‘net because I can walk away.

    Chance are, anyone who uses ablist language like “omg that’s so r#tarded” or “that’s so lame” has offended someone in their life, even just someone casually. Even if no one has confronted you on it.

  41. UnFit
    UnFit April 1, 2009 at 7:15 am |

    Fucking bullshit?

    So, I curse like a sailor.
    I don’t say gay or retarded, but hey, if I were to honestly weed out my vocabulary, fuck would have to be one of the first things to go.

    Fucking someone should be nice, and fun, not somehting you wish upon them as punishment. How is saying “fuck you” to someone you hate different from saying”I totally raped that videogame”?

  42. Billie
    Billie April 1, 2009 at 7:34 am |

    As a special education teacher and Lauren’s mom :) I thank you for this campaign.

    Finding new terms to use is an on-going battle; it is largely an educational issue. The “R” word is not used in my presence.

    “Retard” is defined as a slowing or ineffective process. As any of us who have worked or lived with people with disabilities know, these people are by no means ineffective. Our lives have been enriched and I can truly say the experiences I have had were positive and life-changing.

  43. Farhat
    Farhat April 1, 2009 at 7:49 am |

    I thought the current thing among youngsters is to call such situations or people ‘special’. Retarded is passe.

  44. Jim
    Jim April 1, 2009 at 8:20 am |

    To make it all simpler: when you feel inclined to use one of these words, just replace it with “galt.” As in “that’s so galt” or “you’re galt” or “don’t be a galt” or “you’re going galt again.”

  45. Maria P.
    Maria P. April 1, 2009 at 8:57 am |

    I was never a big fan of ‘retarded’, though I am trying to replace ‘dumb’. My favorite substitute is ‘pants’. I picked it up from a British coworker, so it’s pants-as-in-underwear. “My cell phone is /pants/!” “You have to work on Sunday? That’s pants.” “Saying ‘retarded’ or ‘gay’ when you mean ‘pants’ is totally pants!” See? And your drawers will never say a word about it!

  46. William
    William April 1, 2009 at 9:59 am |

    True, but that doesn’t mean people don’t use the r-word to describe people living with it. A little ham-handed on the part of the original commenter, but IMO basically on the right track.

    Oh, I’m fully aware of that. I’ve struggled with CP and until I became good enough at coping with it that I just seemed like kind of a klutz I encountered that kind of stuff on a regular basis. The problem for me is that there is an assumption that people with CP (especially if they have any speech problems) are all intellectually subnormal, which means a whole variety of rights and privileges have to be fought for and some doors just close. I distinctly remember an IEP meeting I was allowed (allowed…) to attend when I was in high school in which I tried to explain that even though I had real trouble physically writing, I didn’t need to waste my time doing phonics remediation because I fell in the 99th percentile on pretty much any standardized test for English/verbal ability I’d ever taken. Apparently I’d voiced my opinion too strongly, because I was told afterwards by a special ed teacher that “no one likes an angry retard.”

    The tying together of different disabilities and the loss of rights that goes with those perceptions is kind of a sore subject for me.

  47. Athena York
    Athena York April 1, 2009 at 10:03 am |

    All things have a social context, and within our current social context, using the word “retarded” is offensive because it refers to a marginalized population. It is particular offensive because it also refers to a population that often cannot defend themselves against the attack. For this reason, the use of “retarded” should be avoided.

    However, there is a slight difference between using “retarded” and using many other slurs. “Retarded” also has a meaning outside of the context of the mentally challenged. According to the dictionary, retarded can also mean “delayed; a slowing down or hindering of progress; a slackening of tempo; slow in development.” In this sense, “retarded” is actually an appropriate word in many of the instances in which it is used. I avoid using the term due to its offensiveness, but when the word accidentally slips out as a vestige of my elementary school days, it usually does fit this definition. That by no means excuses its use, of course. But it is something to consider.

  48. Sweet Machine
    Sweet Machine April 1, 2009 at 10:04 am |

    I just think of it as another word like ’stupid’. Since I don’t ever think of Mentally Challenged people as ‘retards’, they have no connection to each other in my mind.

    mimulus, they may not have a connection to each other in *your* mind, but I guarantee they do in other people’s minds, and by using “retarded” to mean “something I don’t like,” you’re reinforcing negative associations with disabilities. You might think that people don’t use “retard” to insult disabled people anymore, but that’s just plain not true. I have an older brother who is disabled, and both of our childhoods were absolutely filled with people calling him “retard.” It is still used as an insult everyday, even if you personally never hear people use it. And that makes the issue of your intent (“they have no connection in my mind”) kinda irrelevant: the connection you should worry about is in your listeners’ minds, not yours.

  49. div
    div April 1, 2009 at 11:59 am |

    I suppose it’s a really strange situation for me growing up… in elementary school, we were taught that “retarded” simply was not used to describe people who are mentally challenged. It simply was not allowed, or not “politically correct” or what have you. As a result, I have never thought of “retarded” as describing a challenged person. YET, I have always known it in the back of my mind and refrained from using it.

    Only about a year ago did I decide to pick up the term and use it (because my much more interesting and outgoing cousin used it and I suppose I thought it made me more like her) and now I do use it once in a while.

    Having read all the above comments, I’ve come to realize that I. Must. Stop. because no matter what it means to me, it means something completely different to a whole range of people who understand where it comes from and there is no reason to willingly insult (however unintentional it may be) someone for the sake of using a word that doesn’t need to be used.

    The best words used in expressing outrage are those that are created personally and are ridiculous to someone else – NOT insulting.

  50. Sweet Machine
    Sweet Machine April 1, 2009 at 12:43 pm |

    div, that’s an interesting comment — I’m not sure how old you are, but my brother is 35 and the word “retarded” has always been used in his medical records. The Arc of the United States, for instance, used the word “retarded” in its name until 1992.

  51. Erika
    Erika April 1, 2009 at 1:25 pm |

    Sweet Machine: Your post about your brother on SP was actually one of the first times (embarrassing, I realize) I really thought about language promoting abilism, and I’ve been making an effort to make these words stand out to me in the same way that racial slurs do. So, I really appreciate this post and I’m glad this issue is getting a lot of attention because I think it’s really important.

    I do have one question though that I realize may be sort of nitpicky and make me seem clueless, but I’m not sure who else to ask. Ozymandias sort of mentioned it above, but to rephrase a bit: are words like “idiot,” “moron,” and “imbecile” similarly offensive? They were all used to classify people with legitimate psychological or medical conditions, but have been appropriated to mean what they do by the same conflation of disability and immorality/stupidity that makes the word “retard” so offensive. Clearly the difference here, though, is that no one is actually clinically considered a “moron” anymore while mental retardation is still, as SM mentioned, on the medical records of living people. Does that make it ok to call someone an idiot? Or does this legitimize the way the word’s current meaning came into being? Am I WAY overthinking this?

  52. Jennifer
    Jennifer April 1, 2009 at 1:50 pm |

    I know it’s bad to use, and I try not to, but sometimes I think, “It’s just hard to find a substitute word to mean “someone is acting stoopid” that isn’t offensive.” If I use moron, next thing I know that will be non-PC.

    And uh, I didn’t know “lame” was bad. Or “spaz,” which I thought meant distractedly hyper.

  53. Sweet Machine
    Sweet Machine April 1, 2009 at 2:05 pm |

    Erika, thanks for that comment — it really means a lot to me to know that that post had an impact on people.

    I think it’s a tougher call with some of the other words. I did some OED research on this and found that “idiot” and “imbecile” have longer histories; in other words, they already existed as insulting words before they were appropriated as medical terms. “Moron,” though, was coined by scientists specifically to describe people with cognitive disabilities. Here’s what the OED says:

    1. Psychol. A person with mild mental retardation (spec. with an IQ of between 50 and 70). Now somewhat arch. and offensive.
    The term was first adopted and given this meaning by the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-minded in 1910. It is now generally avoided in technical contexts due to its association with sense 2.
    2. colloq. A stupid or slow-witted person; a fool, an idiot. Also attrib. or as adj.

    The etymology is revealing: they took it from an ancient Greek word that means “stupid.” So yeah, “moron” straight-up means “clinically stupid.” I found that pretty revolting when I read it. That said, it’s not clear to me when it was discontinued for medical use. I’ve never heard my brother called a moron, though I suppose technically he would have been one a couple generations back. But that’s just my experience.

    I think, too, there are regional differences involved in our sense of what’s current slang/current medical terminology. We had a conversation on LJ Fatshionista a couple years ago about the word “lame,” and a lot of people were insisting that that word is *never ever* used medically anymore — even when people piped up and said, “Hello, I’m from [X] and ‘lame’ is all over my medical charts.” Similarly, international commenters on my thread at Shapely Prose said that other words were more common as insults or as medical terms in other countries.

    I guess my response is, no, you’re not OVERthinking it: you’re thinking it! And that’s hugely important. But there’s no one answer and I can only speak from my experience and personal research.

  54. AshKW
    AshKW April 1, 2009 at 3:26 pm |

    @William,
    Her CP involves pretty serious mental damages too; sorry for the shorthand.

  55. ACG
    ACG April 1, 2009 at 4:10 pm |

    I know this is horribly, horribly judgmental of me – and I know I can’t actually get into someone’s head and know what they’re really thinking – but whenever I hear someone say, “When I say ‘retarded,’ I don’t mean ‘retarded people’! I’m just saying ‘slow’! ‘Retarded’ also means ‘slow’!” it smells a little.

    Yes, “retarded” also means, according to the dictionary, “slow” (or more accurately, “delayed”). But saying that Dubya is “retarded” because he’s “slow” (slow to catch on? Slow to what?) is a reach, and saying that a certain law is “retarded” because it’s “slow” doesn’t make sense at all.

    “Retarded” is a pejorative because, in many people’s minds, the cognitively delayed are a bunch of stupid, shouting, drooling idiots who make no contribution to society and should probably be put away. That’s what people (in my limited experience) are drawing on, that’s the association they’re making, and it’s insulting. It’s insulting to the people who truly are cognitively delayed, because it’s saddling them with the attributes of a dumbass like Dubya.

    Like I said, I have no way of knowing that 99 percent of people actually mean “slow” when they say “retarded” and are guilty of nothing more than tone-deafness. But in my experience, it’s not that innocent, and there’s no excuse.

    /judgmental

  56. Destructor
    Destructor April 1, 2009 at 7:37 pm |

    Geroge Bush is fucking retarded because the things he did were unbelievably stupid, so you need a strong word to describe those things. He wasn’t ‘galt’, he wasn’t an idiot or a poo-poo head, he was fucking retarded. The currently accepted meaning of retarded in the vast majority of the western world is not ‘mentally disabled’, it is a curse word meant to describe really stupid things. Who actually refers to mentally disabled people as retarded? Only fucking assholes. Who uses the word to describe really stupid things, with absolutely no reflection on how they feel about mentally disabled people? Pretty much 90% of the population. The word has changed it’s meaning, just like idiot and moron and lame changed their meanings. If you are genuinely offended by the word retard, you need to seriously adjust your ability to distinguish between words and the intentions behind those words.

  57. Maggie
    Maggie April 1, 2009 at 8:04 pm |

    I’m a big fan of the idea of this campaign and a general purge of the word “retard” from our slang. Since my best friend’s brother is learning disabled, I NEVER use the word, but I am pretty cowardly about calling others out on it.

    One thing: does anyone here get a little turned off by calling it the “r-word” ? I think that if you use the word “retarded” in its purest sense (i.e. “Our progress was retarded” or “He is mentally retarded”) there’s no real problem. I definitely agree that this word has been grotesquely misused as slang, but nixing it from our vocabulary (dubbing it the “r” word) makes me uncomfortable. Thoughts?

    (By the way, that’s mostly just being nitpicky. I think it’s a great campaign in general)

  58. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead April 1, 2009 at 8:37 pm |

    IMO, “cripple” is also offensive, and hope to see the word banished.

    PS: The atheists have reminded me of just how often I say: God in Heaven, OMG, Holy God, Good Lord, Jesus Christ, Jesus-Mary-Joseph, Jesus H, etc…. Kathy Griffin says nobody uses religious-based epithets more than Catholics (I plead guilty) and THIS TOTALLY CRACKS ME UP. (Even worse, I am nearly as bad as that!)

    Rachel, good comeback.

  59. mimulus
    mimulus April 1, 2009 at 9:01 pm |

    Erika touched on what I mean. If you’re going to stop using “Retarded”, you should also stop using any other word that someone might use in a similar way: “Stupid”, “Dumb”, “Idiot”, “Moron”, “Imbecile”, etc. Isn’t that the same thing?

  60. Proportion Wheel
    Proportion Wheel April 1, 2009 at 9:25 pm |

    When we’ve done away with the “R” word (or sooner!), I hope we can start working on “brain injured.” I may be sensitized because I’m married to a survivor of TBI, but I cringe when I hear some less-than-intelligent idea denigrated as “brain injured.” We now have thousands of returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer the after-effects of brain injury, which makes this especially pressing. Brain injury does not equal stupidity. What it does mean is as varied as the people to whom it has happened. Please respect them by ending this thoughtless, hurtful locution.

  61. UnFit
    UnFit April 2, 2009 at 7:03 am |

    Hum. I do call people voluntary brain donors.

  62. Sweet Machine
    Sweet Machine April 2, 2009 at 8:27 am |

    If you are genuinely offended by the word retard, you need to seriously adjust your ability to distinguish between words and the intentions behind those words.

    Thanks, Destructor, that puts a whole new light on the kids in my neighborhood who terrorized my brother while screaming “Let’s get the retard.” I’ll make sure to find them on Facebook and apologize for taking offense.

    [/troll-feeding]

  63. Level Best
    Level Best April 2, 2009 at 12:24 pm |

    It seems to me that the context for using one of these dismissive words is generally in response to something which the speaker considers wrong. So why not just say, “That is so wrong!” or “That’s just wrong!” instead of using the r-, l-, or g- word to describe the situation?

  64. Erika
    Erika April 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm |

    Thanks so much for the response Sweet Machine. I actually had a very long discussion with a close friend of mine yesterday evening about all of this and came to a few conclusions. I think several commenters here have pointed out that as soon as “retarded” is completely phased out as a clinical definition, it will still exist in its pejorative sense, but it will be joined by a new crop of insulting terms using the existing clinical terminology as insults. “Special” is already used this way.

    So, I suppose I have realized that discrimination will always exist in the society we live in (I truly cannot imagine that the generally patriarchal, racist, classist, sexist, ablist hierarchy will be overthrown anytime soon) but that the very least I can do (and must do) is advocate for the antiracist feminist society I would like to see. So in that sense, you’re absolutely right; the “thinking” it is what’s important here, whether I’m OVERthinking the issue or not. It’s important that a discourse about the power of language exists; I think that my inability to resolve my feelings about the etymology of certain words suggests that this discourse is complex and essential. I guess, then, the issue is not ultimately about those exact words themselves (which, for the record, I’m not using for the time being) but about the larger system of how language perpetuates power and oppression. To end my long and boring wordvomit here (sorry), I need to read and think a lot more, basically. I’m an English major and will definitely go to grad school, so I guess I find this very interesting, is the point I’m trying to make in an incredibly roundabout way.

    As for the discussion with my friend, he has CP and experiences some minor (I hope that’s a fair characterization) physical symptoms (again, I’m not really sure if that’s the correct word and he has varying feelings about words like this and disability, etc.). Basically, he walks with a limp. He told me last night that he does find the word lame offensive and he wishes it weren’t used as a descriptor of general crappiness, because it stinks to have a group you belong to held us as an example or a comparison to badness. And honestly, to every single person who has commented here defending the use of “retard,” saying that you “don’t mean it that way” so it doesn’t matter: you should be ashamed of yourselves. At least own up to the fact that the behavior you engage in contributes to a conflation of othered physical/mental conditions with badness. Everyone makes mistakes, but defending them is unacceptable.

    SO sorry for the obscenely long comment. Congratulations if you made it all the way to the end, hooray!

  65. Gaius Marius
    Gaius Marius April 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm |

    Former Washington Post executive Leslie Morgan Steiner recounted on NPR in a segment today how her ex-husband used to beat her and casually call her “retard,” which she first took as a term of endearment but later realized was another red flag she’d missed.

  66. Erika
    Erika April 2, 2009 at 5:46 pm |

    Proportion Wheel, that is a very good point. My mom is an OR nurse at Walter Reed, and I could not agree more. I’ve gotten somewhat of a crash course in the medical/psychological results of this war from some of my mother’s stories, and sometimes I wish more people were aware of the actual human cost of the Bush Doctrine and the War on Terror. I certainly would never wish to exploit anyone and I respect everyone’s rights to differing political views, of course, but I personally believe that the results of violence are incredibly sad and wish that there were some way that people could have their empathy switches flipped so that war and human suffering were considered so morally and ethically repugnant that it is generally not considered a viable option.

    Furthermore, I’m pretty shocked at the number of self-described liberals and progressives who use blatantly offensive and stereotypical terms regarding members of the armed forces and who use “brain injured” as an insult when they (should) know better, considering TBI is so often a result of a war that they oppose.

    A somewhat related issue: the language about mental illness. “Schizo,” saying that someone “needs to be locked up” when you consider them stupid and/or immoral, etc. As a former psychiatric inpatient I am a smidge touchy about this subject and I realize a lot of people probably don’t care, but I kind of wish people would stop making jokes about the “loony bin” and the “insane asylum” because it’s actually really offensive when I (and others, obviously) were hospitalized for very serious reasons. Although I suppose the stigma conflating mental illness and immorality is something that a lot more people are willing to accept, but here’s my, um, unofficial plea for the language promoting it to stop, I guess.

  67. goldnsilver
    goldnsilver April 2, 2009 at 11:46 pm |

    I don’t really feel passionate about this.

    My sister and I (who is a lesbian) still joke around about using the word ‘gay’ negatively. I sometimes say ‘God, your so gay’ or something to that effect and she pisses herself laughing. I’m not a believer in political correctness. When someone says ‘that’s retarded’ I understand that they are just trying to communicate that something is ‘stupid’. However, if someone was genuinely offended by me saying that, I would respect their wishes and wouldn’t use it around them.

    I just feel that this kind of thing starts a culture of self-righteous defensiveness. If someone is not intending to actually offend you, then remember to keep that in mind when highlighting the issue. There is a huge gap between intent and custom.

  68. Nathanael
    Nathanael April 3, 2009 at 8:55 am |

    “I mean it’s funny because I’m an idiot sometimes”

    Idiot, another example of a word which lost its clinical usage and is still used pejoratively. I’m afraid any word used to describe people whose thinking is less than perfect (idiot, moron, insane, lunatic, etc.) is going to end up as a pejorative. Which at least means our culture values thinking clearly. Consider that “weak” is used as a generic pejorative, presumably because our culture indiscriminately values muscles (!?!). Consider that almost anything refering to a female is used as a pejorative because our culture indiscriminately values maleness.

    “Retarded” is particularly dumb to use as a pejorative because people use it for behavior which doesn’t resemble the behavior of developmentally retarded people at all. (“Brain-damaged” is much more generic, by contrast.) Oops, I just said “dumb”, which originally meant “mute” and is another slur, on people who may have no mental disabilities at all.

    I wish the campaign luck, but I think it’s utterly doomed — a complete waste of time.

    As for my personal attempts to be politically correct, “insane”, one of the oldest words in the book, is still pretty good as a way to insult deeply stupid behavior, because it simply means “unsound”.

  69. Ali
    Ali April 3, 2009 at 8:56 am |

    If someone is not intending to actually offend you, then remember to keep that in mind when highlighting the issue.

    If someone is not intending to offend someone else, then they should not do something offensive. If they don’t realize they are being offensive and someone calls them out for it, they should then apologize, and not do it again. Not get defensive and stammer “but but my INTENNNNNTTTT!”

  70. Ali
    Ali April 3, 2009 at 9:01 am |

    And joking around with your sister about stuff being gay? fantastic. That’s your personal relationship and if she’s made it clear she’s absolutely fine with it that’s great, honestly. A couple friends and I call each other bitches all the time, but we only do it with each other, and we never do it out of anger. And I can’t speak for these particular friends, but I try never to use bitch as an actual insult to anyone, and I will never use gay, retard, lame, or similar words as insults not because I’m trying to be PC, but because I’m not trying to be an asshole.

  71. William
    William April 3, 2009 at 9:24 am |

    A somewhat related issue: the language about mental illness.

    I know what you mean, and that gets to be a pretty deep rabbit hole. I’m actually writing my dissertation on the ways in which unconscious attitudes about the mad affect patient autonomy and language is one of the things I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. One of the arguments I make very early on is that we need to find a term other than “mental illness” (I suggest madness, but really thats because its a least-worst option) because of how it subtly reinforces negative stereotypes about people it is applied to. It feeds a basic belief that those afflicted are incompetent, its immensely othering, and the use of “illness” implies an objective medical condition which is often not the case. The mad then become chronically ill people and there are all sorts of subtle contagion fears that come into play. Perhaps worst of all, “mental illness” is a purely negative term (in that it defines through absence) and thus is both highly subjective and creates a hierarchy through judgment.

    Also, I’m with you on the joke about confinement. I don’t think most people realize just how little power people who are committed have and how many violations of autonomy have to be tolerated in such a situation.

  72. ACG
    ACG April 3, 2009 at 9:45 am |

    William – I can’t speak for anyone else, but allow me to put in my vote in favor of “mental illness.” As someone who is, well, mentally ill, I’d much rather see my condition described in terms of an illness that can be treated and managed rather than some brainstate (“madness”) that is most frequently attributed to cows and malevolent scientists. Ill people can get better; crazy is for keeps.

  73. Sweet Machine
    Sweet Machine April 3, 2009 at 10:11 am |

    I wish the campaign luck, but I think it’s utterly doomed — a complete waste of time.

    There’s the activist spirit in action!

    I can’t believe how dismissive and pessimistic so many people are about something that is, in fact, one of the most direct steps of activism you can take: highlighting how everyday language can be oppressive. Hearing language every day that demeans and dehumanizes you or your loved ones is incredibly demoralizing. And if someone doesn’t *intend* to demoralize you, they will probably try to stop when you tell them they’re doing so. It really strikes me as one of the most straightforward and potentially successful (on a face-to-face basis) steps you can take to fight stereotypes.

  74. William
    William April 3, 2009 at 3:20 pm |

    ACG:

    I suppose it is a matter of preference. I’m both afflicted with a relatively mild madness (which is what I’ll call it for myself) and I’m a service provider for people with more severe, chronic conditions. My patients with severe Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and Schizoaffective diagnoses will not likely ever “get better.” The reality they face is that they will struggle with some degree of symptoms until the day they die. It might be a brain state, it might be the dividends of past abuse, in most cases its somewhere in between, but the closest they’ll ever come to a cure is being able to cope. There isn’t medicine out there that will fix what they suffer from, and therapy (while immensely helpful, and fuck you Medicaid for not covering it properly) can only help them manage and understand their symptoms.

    From my perspective, labeling their experience as “mental illness” is pretty damaging to them. An illness will always be a bad thing, it will always be something marginalized, it will always mark clients burdened by such a label as different. Its not an accident that hospitals for lepers were converted to asylums for the mad as leprosy disappeared from Europe. We’re talking about a group of people who have chronically and historically been treated as immoral, sinful, childlike, dangerous, or just plain disgusting. People who have fewer rights both legally and in practice than any other population. They are always at the bottom of the heap, the most beaten, the most reviled, the most trod upon. I see the medicalization of a state of being as being offensive, as being inherently damaging to the people who live that experience because it gives society a justification for treating these people in ways that generally look more like how we treat convicts then how we treat sick people. Medicalization allows us to see something bad, and as much as we might tell ourselves that it is the disease we are trying to “cure” we cannot escape that it is actual human beings who suffer the consequences of our own fears.

    Madness may be a poor term (I actually agree that its not a good option), but I think “mental illness” does insidious damage that most people don’t notice. Just ask anyone who has been in the position of having to prove that they are not sick in order to get their basic rights back when the definition of sickness is “thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, or feelings which fall too far outside the mean.”

  75. RD
    RD April 3, 2009 at 3:47 pm |

    I’m actually writing my dissertation on the ways in which unconscious attitudes about the mad affect patient autonomy and language is one of the things I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.

    Really? How awesome.

    One of the arguments I make very early on is that we need to find a term other than “mental illness” (I suggest madness, but really thats because its a least-worst option) because of how it subtly reinforces negative stereotypes about people it is applied to. It feeds a basic belief that those afflicted are incompetent, its immensely othering, and the use of “illness” implies an objective medical condition which is often not the case.

    I use non-neurotypical sometimes. I like it but I guess it is also “defined in opposition.” I have used mental illness before but I agree with yr critiques. Except that, I don’t think people with physical illness should be stigmatized or seen as less than either.

    therapy (while immensely helpful, and fuck you Medicaid for not covering it properly)

    Ugh, no fucking kidding.

  76. RD
    RD April 3, 2009 at 3:55 pm |

    And yeah. I want treatment that is actually helpful and respects autonomy available, but the “treatment” I have gotten has never helped me.

  77. RD
    RD April 3, 2009 at 4:00 pm |

    Not to compare myself to yr patients either, tho.

  78. RD
    RD April 3, 2009 at 4:02 pm |

    If that would be inappropriate or a false comparison.

  79. William
    William April 3, 2009 at 6:38 pm |

    I use non-neurotypical sometimes. I like it but I guess it is also “defined in opposition.” I have used mental illness before but I agree with yr critiques. Except that, I don’t think people with physical illness should be stigmatized or seen as less than either.

    Non-neurotypical is starting to get some traction in some areas, but I’m not a huge fan of it because I don’t really feel that brain structure/chemicals/biology is behind most of the symptoms I see. I fall more on the nurture side of the debate, I guess. Non-neurotypical was one of the possible terms that came up when I was doing my research on language but, as my dissertation falls pretty heavily in the psychoanalytic camp , it wasn’t really a good fit for the theory I was using or my intended audience. I like it as a term for people with diagnoses on the autistic spectrum (which I don’t really see as symptomatic in most cases but thats a different debate) and people who have diseases with a known organic etiology (some kinds of DD, epilepsy, etc) though.

    I also agree that people with physical illnesses shouldn’t be stigmatized but, as my father says, wanting and being don’t usually meet.

    And yeah. I want treatment that is actually helpful and respects autonomy available, but the “treatment” I have gotten has never helped me.

    Thats a big part of the problem with psychotherapy. Therapy with a skilled, experienced, doctoral level clinician is expensive and isn’t nearly scientific enough for most insurance plans to cover it. 5-10 years with a good analyst or a person-centered therapist is just out of most people’s budgets. Worse, some of the most skilled clinicians I know simply don’t take any kind of insurance or Medicare/caid because they don’t want to put up with the headaches. They might have a quarter of their hours dedicated to sliding scale or free care, but that effectively means that a full time therapist is going to have only 5-7 slots open (at most) for people who can’t fork over $150/hr cash every week. That leaves people with MA level counselors or people who grind out CBT or EBT treatments in 12-16 sessions doses or inexperienced students (such as myself) who are overworked, unpaid, and will be gone once the year is over. The system sucks.

  80. Caitlin
    Caitlin April 3, 2009 at 7:28 pm |

    Erika, thanks for that comment — it really means a lot to me to know that that post had an impact on people.

    Dunno if you’ll see this all the way down here, SM, but I haven’t used “retarded” since I read your post, and I’ve called at least 3 people on its use.

    (Most recently my girlfriend, who called some food she was preparing “retarded” and I said “I don’t use that word; I don’t like it”. She said, “I didn’t mean it that way” and I said, “There isn’t another way to mean it.” And she was like “You’re right. I’m sorry,” and really seemed to take it on board, and if she’s used it since she certainly hasn’t done it around me.)

    Each one teach one.

  81. goldnsilver
    goldnsilver April 3, 2009 at 10:51 pm |

    If someone is not intending to offend someone else, then they should not do something offensive.

    Yes, because everyone has a psychicly beamed list of possible situations that may offend the hundreds of individuals they know. If my co-worker has a romantic relationship with an anteater and I casually make a beastiality joke, then it must be all my fault.

    If they don’t realize they are being offensive and someone calls them out for it, they should then apologize, and not do it again. Not get defensive and stammer “but but my INTENNNNNTTTT!”

    I agree. Unless the ‘victim’ is overtly offensive in response to their accidental comment.

    And joking around with your sister about stuff being gay? fantastic. That’s your personal relationship and if she’s made it clear she’s absolutely fine with it that’s great, honestly. A couple friends and I call each other bitches all the time, but we only do it with each other, and we never do it out of anger. And I can’t speak for these particular friends, but I try never to use bitch as an actual insult to anyone, and I will never use gay, retard, lame, or similar words as insults not because I’m trying to be PC, but because I’m not trying to be an asshole.

    I agree with you also. The fact that you use the word ‘bitch’, in the context of hanging out with your friends, and with a good intent is acceptable. It is when you have use that word with its original insulting meaning that it is bad. I think this is the same for the word ‘retarded’.

  82. Erika
    Erika April 3, 2009 at 11:20 pm |

    William, that is fascinating about your dissertation. I have problems with “mental illness” too, but I think “madness” is pretty stigmatizing. When I’ve had to tell friends that I was (ugh, involuntarily) committed, I try to be light and funny about it, and I say I have “the crazies” as if it isn’t that big of a deal. The term “mental illness” implies that it is being fixed or that it is better, when that isn’t really quite the case. I also don’t want it to seem like a big tragic horrible thing (although it isn’t pleasant, especially the hospitalization and the subsequent medical leave) so I agree with you that there’s not really a good term for it now. Madness, though, connotes strait jackets and lobotomies, patients howling in despair… I’m not really comfortable with that identification, even if those are all hyperbolic stereotypes.

    Ali, post 71: YES, exactly.

  83. William
    William April 4, 2009 at 2:17 pm |

    Erika: I agree that madness is pretty stigmatizing in itself, but its a working term that dodges some of the big problems I have with other historically used terms. Pretty much any term we have for any kind of abnormality is going to have significant negative connotations and is going to be stigmatizing, but I think that has less to do with the terms themselves than with the society. If madness (by whatever name) is stigmatized then anything we end up calling it will inherit those stigmas. Part of the reason I like madness because I feel like its a little more honest (which factors into why I’m using it in the specific context of my work); it wears it’s negative connotations on it’s sleeves and doesn’t try to hide behind a pretext of science or objectivity. The stereotypes you mentioned which madness conjures aren’t ultimately defensible, especially for clinicians, and that dissonance makes them more easily challenged. I was also drawn to madness because Foucault has used it extensively in what I feel is a pretty positive way. Nietzsche even went so far as to describe a transitory form of madness as being the norm for creative people.

    Still, I understand your criticisms. I’m not sure I’d argue for madness to become the new “it” term, but it works for my idiosyncratic purposes.

    Also, I’m sorry you had to go through what you had to go through. One of the major applications of my dissertation is a decision-making model which makes involuntary commitment much more difficult to ethically justify.

  84. Ali
    Ali April 6, 2009 at 12:34 pm |

    Let me rephrase that for you goldnsilver,
    My friends and I, all women commonly use a word jovially amongst ourselves that is used as a slur against women.
    If I had a friend who happened to be in some way mentally disabled, and zie liked to fling around retard with hir friends, bully for hir. But I still wouldn’t use that word in anything other than conversations about that word (like here) because it is not my word to use, irregardless of your precious intent.

  85. Destructor
    Destructor April 8, 2009 at 2:05 am |

    @Sweet Machine- God, yes, I’m such a troll, even though I’ve been a feministe reader for years and have commented dozens of times, it was all for that special moment when I gave my opinion and you didn’t like it.

    I said: “Distinguish between words and the intentions behind them.” You responded by saying you once heard the word retard used with horrible intent and you were offended by it. You were right to be offended by it- I’m offended by it. Because the INTENT was hurtful. Don’t you see the difference between them saying that and me saying to a mate: “You’re being retarded.” or: “That was retarded funny.” Don’t you see how context changes the meaning of words? Do we have to be offended by a word in any context just because it is offensive in some? If those people who yelled at your brother used a different word, would it have been any LESS offensive? It’s the intent that hurts, not the words used.

    I don’t think it’s “trolling” to say that I disagree with this campaign. You’re completely free not to use the word, and as I said above, if a friend asked me to stop using it around them, I absolutely would. But I think blind, unthinking censorship is a far greater evil than a pattern of letters that signifies a dozen different things to a dozen different people. If we all avoided every word that offended every different person, nobody would say anything. So make your own choices, but please don’t call me a troll for making mine.

  86. RD
    RD April 15, 2009 at 4:58 am |

    Yeah William I keep coming back to this not sure what to say. I’m not sure you will even see this at this point but oh well. Cuz I tend to think that I am more on the nurture than nature side too, or tend to be (and not just in these specific terms but I don’t wanna derail my own comment).

    I just typed up a bunch of stuff about my own self and then realized I did not feel comfortable posting it. Anyway I have issues that are unquestionably trauma-related, both the stuff they tell me is trauma-related AND, imo, some of the stuff they think is “brain chemistry out of whack” and whatever else they say. “If” I have depression/anxiety for instance (lol of course I do!), unresponsive to meds, lots and lots of trauma symptoms, and some trauma-related diagnoses also, then gee, maybe my life does just actually suck monkey balls, jmho. But also too many diagnoses, with one very old one that did actually put me on the autism spectrum…and some people now questioning that…ummm especially since my mom sort of made it up originally and convinced me it was an official diagnosis when it wasn’t actually, not the whole time she had me and others including a couple schools convinced it was (and she shamed me for it like nothing else), but honestly, who the fuck knows. IMO I do have aspie symptoms too, not sure everything wrong with me is all accountable to trauma (which there has been plenty of that). I’m not in therapy tho. Was recently in hospital, but…that’s not therapy.

    And sometimes I just think fuck it, its all just bullshit anyway (yr loovely field of study, I mean, sorry :P). Victim-blaming bullshit a lot of the time too, with trauma stuff.

    And with what you said about sliding scale. I don’t have trouble finding someone who will do sliding scale, but the problem there is that it is just still so fucking expensive.

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